Review of review sites long overdue

By Gillian McKenzie

A Restaurant in Italy topped the rankings on an online review site last week – despite the fact it doesn’t exist.

Comment By Gillian McKenzie
By Gillian McKenzie

The imaginary eatery was said to have been created by an Italian newspaper in a bid to show that some sites can be open to misuse and fraudulent reviews.

A slightly crafty experiment, perhaps; but it seems to have flagged a number of issues, not the least of which is that a non-existent restaurant can be billed the best based on ‘reviews’.

That ‘customers’ can post comments about a restaurant, bar or hotel on some sites without any measures in place to verify that they did indeed eat, drink or stay overnight has long been a bone of contention for operators.

It’s no wonder.

Review sites are powerful. Research by competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), revealed 68% of people think reviews are more important than other sources of information, including recommendations from family and friends, when booking travel or hotels; while 76% think those reviews are written by genuine customers.

The reality is there are cases of people posting negative ‘reviews’ of places they have never set foot in; businesses writing or commissioning positive reviews about themselves and/or negative reviews of competitors; and even customers posting derogatory comments about members of staff.

That’s why the CMA’s investigation into the alleged misuse of review sites has been welcomed.

If some sort of uniform verification system was in place it could put an end to the rogue reviews and downright nasty comments.